Man versus The State
Oscar B. Johannsen
[Reprinted from Fragments, July-September
To live, each man must labor in order to acquire the necessities to
maintain his life the primary needs being food, clothing, and shelter.
There is only one place from which he can obtain these things, and
that is land. Thus, every man has the right of access to land, for
this comes from his right to life. If he does not have this right,
then his right to life is meaningless.
Since all men have equal rights to life, they have equal rights to
the opportunities of land. But, since two things cannot occupy the
same place at the same time, some men will have access to the better
opportunities, to which they are no more entitled than anyone else. It
is to solve this problem that men require Government.
Government constitutes a group of people who divide the unequal
opportunities of land among themselves -- the equal claimants to these
opportunities on a basis of justice. If anyone can devise a means to
do this without the collective action of men, then Government should
not be necessary. But this appears to be as impossible to do as it is
to live without eating.
Justice requires that Government allocate the parcels of land over
which it has jurisdiction by means of leases based on auctions in
which all could participate. The land area a particular Government
would control probably would have to be of relatively small size, but
that would depend upon circumstances. In cities, the land area would
most likely be quite small; in rural areas, fairly large.
It is obvious that Government must be just large enough so that all
can participate in the leasing as well as dividing the rent pro rata
among all the members of the Government. The leasing might be
annually, biennially, or for larger time periods, as desired by the
members. Experience would determine which would be the best length of
Government is a voluntaristic organization, and as such is not
responsible for protection, post offices, education, roads, and the
various services which many assume are its functions. These functions
belong in the marketplace.
The State, on the other hand, is a corruption of Government, whose
raison d'etre is protection of its citizens. The State is a monopoly
of coercion. Ancients, such as Plato and Socrates, as well as
philosophers Hegel and Hobbes, were obsessed with the concept that the
State is something noble. Hegel was guilty of the absurdity that "the
State is the Divine idea as it exists on earth."
While most people seldom question the validity of the State's
existence, a few iconoclasts have looked upon it with the barest of
toleration, if not downright antipathy. H.L. Mencken said; "The
State... consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me... [who]
have only a talent of getting and holding office." Voltaire
argued that the State is a "force existing to transfer money from
the pockets of one group of citizens into the pockets of another
group," while Leo Tolstoy's caustic comment was that the "Government
is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us."
(Tolstoy does not differentiate between "Government" and the
In Albert Jay Nock's eyes, there are only two methods by which men
can apply the immutable Natural Law governing all human behavior, that
all men seek to satisfy their desires with the least effort. One is
the economic means, i.e., working to satisfy desires; the second is
the political means, i.e., the forceful acquisition, by legal or
illegal means, of the wealth of others. Putting it simply, men can
satisfy their desires with the least effort by working or stealing.
However, as stealing is repugnant to human beings, they becloud that
fact even to themselves by all manner of sanctions or prohibitions
which they acquire from the State. Consciously or unconsciously, they
devise a rationale which convinces them that they are rendering a
service to their fellowmen, when actually they are robbing them.
Since men require Government to allocate the opportunities of land
among themselves, they have assumed that the State is Government. But
the State is merely a group of people having a monopoly of coercive
power, organized to exploit the political means.
Those in control of the modern State no doubt sincerely may believe
they are utilizing State power for the benefit of the people. However,
since by its very nature the State is an exploitative institution, its
exploitation continues. Instead of taking the crude form of outright
theft as practiced by feudal robber barons, the modern State exploits
the producers of wealth for whichever class controls. In the Merchant
State, the exploitation is for the benefit of the landowners and
commercial interests. In America, today, the exploitation is tending
increasingly to be for the "disenfranchised classes," the
non-producers, and the poor.
Without realizing it, man in his relation to the State is in a
paradoxical position. On the one hand, he is in conflict with it in
his opposition to the constantly increasing taxation and regulations.
On the other hand, he looks upon it to provide physical protection as
well as social welfare of one sort or another. That he gets little
physical protection is proved by the high crime rate; and in war time,
instead of the State protecting him, he is conscripted to protect it.
And the social welfare programs are merely the shifting of income from
one class of people to other classes, with those in control of the
State acquiring a goodly share in the form of munificent salaries and
Inasmuch as the State is an unjust institution, sooner or later it
will collapse. This breakdown is highlighted in the history books as
an exhausting war or revolution. If it is a great State, as was
ancient Rome, the great civilization which it had established
declines, to be succeeded by nations, as in western Europe, where more
People have never created Governments, only States. However, as human
beings have largely eliminated the iniquitous practice of human
slavery, there is hope that some day they will eliminate the State and
substitute Government. But this will require a better understanding of
human relationship to land and Government.
Our insistent cry should be: Government, Yes!! The State, No!